Imagine an imperial court in south India at the beginning of the 16th century. The king sits at the centre, flanked by women ‘with eyes like blue sapphires’, who are cooling the air with yak-tail fans. Seated in front of him, scholars discuss the fine points of Paninian grammar, atomistic philosophy and metaphysics. Warriors hold swords darkly glowing in the afternoon light, which filters across the hall, refracting through the jewelled crowns of defeated rivals, as it comes to rest on the king himself.
This king ruled over the largest empire ever in south India, and the description of his court comes from his favourite poet, the great Telugu writer Allasani Peddana. The king’s capital, built at Hampi in the central Deccan, was called Vijayanagara, the ‘City of Victory’.